New Delhi: A code of conduct for navigation and other activities in the disputed South China Sea is important, a Chinese strategic affairs expert said on Tuesday, adding that international attention was concentrated on the region because there was no crisis management mechanism in place.

“CoC (code of conduct) is important," Wu Shicun, president of the Beijing-based National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS) think tank told reporters in New Delhi at an event organised by the Chinese embassy.

“A crisis management mechanism is not there so everyone is worried," Wu said, adding that in the many decades of the dispute China had not taken any step to hinder normal navigation through the South China Sea.

Other speakers at the event included Ye Hailin, Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and Zhang Junshe, senior researcher, Naval Research Institute of Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy.

Since 2010, China and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been discussing a set of rules for rival claimants in the South China Sea aimed at avoiding conflict—with little success.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade passes every year, and has been increasingly assertive in staking its claim.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have rival claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.

Wu’s comments come days after China slammed an annual US defence department report to the Congress which said that China is expected to add substantial military infrastructure, including communications and surveillance systems, to artificial islands in the South China Sea this year.

The Pentagon report said the planned addition of military infrastructure would give China long-term “civil-military bases" in the contested waters. It estimated that China’s reclamation work had added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) of land on seven features it occupied in the Spratly Islands in the space of two years.

The report said China had completed its major reclamation efforts in October, switching focus to infrastructure development, including three 9,800-foot-long (3,000-meter) airstrips that can accommodate advanced fighter jets.

The Pentagon report comes at a time of heightened tension over maritime territories claimed by China and disputed by several Asian nations. Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased US naval patrols and exercises in Asia.

Ye, in his remarks, blamed the US and its policy of ensuring “freedom of navigation" for heightening tensions in the region. He said that China was deploying limited military assets in the region for the safety of its nationals.

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